Sunday, December 09, 2007

Guilty Until Proven Innocent - Part IV "A New Hope"

Please pardon the "Star Wars" reference. You'll see why I thought of that as you read on:

In my previous posts about my trials (or, more correctly, my lack of trials) with my child support issues I had quite the horror story to tell in Guilty Until Proven Innocent, Return of "Guilty Until Proven Innocent", and Return of the Son of Innocent Until Proven Guilty. I have a new chapter to add to this saga, and a surprisingly pleasant one, too.

After my previous experiences with the Texas Attorney General Child Support Division (AG), I was rather upset to receive a letter from them informing me that my child support agreement was to be "reviewed" to make sure everything was set up properly. It was a nicely written letter which described the benefits of going directly to the AG and negotiating since I wouldn't have to hire an attorney, pay court costs and would have any disagreements settled in a "friendly" atmosphere.

To say the least, I was somewhat dubious of the letter's claims and figured I was on my way to a kangaroo court. My fears were reinforced when I got another letter in ALL CAPS with a far more threatening tone which informed me if I didn't show up for the meeting a settlement would be made with no input from me. Of course, I was going to show up.

I took the day off and headed to the local AG office at the appointed time. What a place. It seemed that most of the people there were angry to one degree or another. Many of the employees looked shell-shocked as they went about their tasks. And no wonder, most of the angry people were giving them such a hard time about things. I have a healthy respect for those folks who work in that office, I doubt I could deal with angry people all day long and not go crazy.

The meeting went very well. My ex-wife and I agree on many things, and we weren't there to fight. I presented my recent pay stubs and the lady recalculated how much I was supposed to pay according to the AG's formula. In Texas, child support is pretty much set according to the law, so there really isn't much to argue about. My obligation went up a little because of a raise I got a while back, but it was still fair and according to the law.

All in all, it was a somewhat pleasant experience.

I do have to point out again how harried the folks working in that office looked. The lady who working in our meeting thanked us over and over for not fighting and getting ugly with her. I imagine we were probably the very rare exception to the rule that most folks go in there and give the employees a hard time. Again, I couldn't work there. The stress would have me in a nice white jacket, the kind with the long sleeves that tie in the back. My hat's off to the folks who work in our local AG office.

This good experience, however, does not erase my concerns about the lack of due process of the AG when it appears someone is in arrears in their child support. Though I appreciated their professionalism in this case, I still disagree with their methods in situations such that I experienced this past summer. After this latest experience, though, I am cautiously optimistic that us noncustodial parents aren't automatically vilified in all circumstances.

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